In another significant step away from Maoist egalitarianism and Soviet-style Marxist economics, China is introducing a merit raise system for the world's largest and perhaps most cumbersome bureaucracy.

In replacing longevity of service with performance on the job as the primary criterion for salary levels, the government could give as much as a $1 billion raise to its work force this year, according to a Hong Kong newspaper with close ties to the Peking government.

The decision to introduce a new wage system for the bureaucracy was announced yesterday by the official New China News Agency. The agency reported that the aim of the change will be to give additional pay to government and Communist Party officials based on their performance and responsibilities rather than on seniority alone.

Although it did not disclose figures, the news agency described the projected pay raise for government workers as the largest such increase since the Communists took power in 1949. Official Chinese publications place the number of government workers in China at nearly 20 million, although measures have been enacted to trim that figure significantly. Foreign experts call the official figure low. State workers earn about $25 on the average, less than many factory workers make, given their bonuses.

The pro-Communist newspaper Ta Kung Pao in Hong Kong said that more than a $1 billion already had been appropriated for the wage increases.

As described by the official news agency, the new wage system constitutes another step away from the late Communist Party chairman Mao Tse-tung's distrust of a bureaucratic system that China is said to have invented more than 2,000 years ago. It also appears to mark a significant break with wage standards originally adopted from the Soviet system of the 1950s.

The new system breaks down each employe's wage into four parts: the basic wage, that derived from specific duties, the service length allowance and a bonus. The bonuses based on performance by government workers appears to be much more wide-ranging than anything previously attempted.

"The bonus will be awarded to those who have distinguished themselves in their work, with its size assessed according to performance," the news agency said.

In a brief report issued yesterday, the agency said that while government workers will receive an allowance for time in service, the principal part of their salaries will be determined by the specific job or position held. In the past, it was possible for a government worker to be promoted to a higher position without receiving an increase in salary. This left some workers with little incentive to improve their performance, even when given added responsibilities.

Ta Kung Pao said that the main beneficiaries of the changes are likely to be young professionals, specialists, and intellectuals recently promoted to leading positions.

In his day, Mao railed against "20 manifestations of bureaucracy," including corruption, laziness and nepotism. Former party chairman Hua Guofeng added to the list overstaffing and duplication. In 1980, Deng Xiaoping, the current principal leader, delivered a speech giving his own long list of "harmful manifestations" of bureaucracy.

In 1983, one of the foreign experts on the subject, John P. Burns of the University of Hong Kong, wrote in the journal Asian Survey that "taking the initiative, accepting responsibility, honesty and speed are qualities which have not been sufficiently rewarded in China's party and state organizations."